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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of December 3 - 9, 2003


East Fork grazing
decision appealed
from multiple sides

Express Staff Writer

Groups on both sides of a debate over cattle grazing on public land in the East Fork of the Salmon River valley have appealed a recent U.S. Forest Service decision that curtails the practice in the area.

Two environmental groups and a fisheries biologist have contended the Forest Service’s proposed management is too lax. On the other hand, ranchers who will be affected by the decision contend the Forest Service is proposing to restrict grazing too severely.

In a nutshell, the ranchers want the Forest Service to allow grazing to continue unchanged. The environmentalists want grazing there abolished.

The appeals are important, because decisions made for the East Fork area are likely to set a standard for grazing management in other parts of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. An environmental study of four sheep grazing allotments in the Sawtooth and Big Wood River valleys is already under way, and up to four more cattle allotments are scheduled for review in 2005.

"Whatever the rulings are here, we’ll adjust accordingly," said Carol Brown, Sawtooth National Forest appeals coordinator.

The Upper and Lower East Fork Cattle and Horse Allotment Management Plans are the result of more than five years of work and were completed in October. The plan appears to reach a compromise between proposed curtailment of grazing in the area and the status quo.

The final decision, made by former SNRA Area Ranger Deb Cooper before her departure for Alaska, will temporarily reduce livestock grazing in selected areas to allow the land and flora to recuperate. When specified resource conditions are met, livestock use will be allowed to resume at levels slightly higher than in the past three years.

The temporary closures, totaling 23,500 acres, include some areas specified in a draft plan, released in March, for permanent closure.

Areas retained for permanent closure total 27,620 acres.

But for the appellants, the compromise decision fell short.

In one appeal, the Baker Ranch Partnership, a consortium of East Fork ranchers, contended grazing should not be termed a "secondary" use in management of the SNRA, as it was in a 2002 U.S. federal district court ruling. The appeal seeks unchanged use of the grazing allotments, which the Bakers said are in "showcase" condition.

Another appeal, by East Fork ranchers Wayne, Melodie, Richard and Betty Baker, charges that the Forest Service’s decision was based on poor science and a poor range of alternatives.

That 18-page appeal highlights ways cattle grazing can aid the ecosystem. It also counters many specific points contained in the Forest Service document.

On the other side of the issue, Western Watersheds Project and the Boulder-White Clouds Council are asking for grazing to be phased out in the two allotments. The groups’ appeal contends that wildlife species and riparian vegetation will continue to suffer under the proposed management plan.

The groups also charge that the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to analyze the impacts of the proposed installation of up to 15 miles of fencing at or near 9,000 feet in the White Cloud Mountains.

Jon Marvel, founder of the Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project, said he believes "a lot of political pressure has been brought to bear" on the Forest Service regarding this decision.

In a September interview, Cooper indicated that charge is at least partly true. She said senior Forest Service officials and Idaho congressional representatives gave the East Fork environmental review unprecedented attention. The final decision was not hers alone, she said.

There was a "heightened level of interest internal to the Forest Service on this decision, and many people helped work on the decision," she said. "Certainly the Idaho delegation is concerned about maintaining ranching within the state of Idaho, and they’re willing to express that concern to leaders in the agency.

"I’ve been criticized quite a bit about placing the value of the health of natural resources beyond other values," she added.

When asked about congressional involvement in the decision, U.S. Sen. Larry Craig’s spokesman, Will Hart, said only that the decision is not how the senator would have liked it to turn out.

"We’re in a multiple use system, and we need to have multiple use," Hart said. "We don’t believe that it’s fair to eliminate grazing on 70 percent of the area. There needs to be dialogue and discussion instead of lawsuits and easy talking points."

Cooper’s decision culminated nearly six years of work and analysis on the two allotments, formerly totaling 131,000 acres and now reduced to about 115,000 acres.

The Forest Service began the process of analyzing the two allotments in the mid-1990s. During the intervening years, there were three separate opportunities for public review. The most recent public comment and review phase garnered 224 letters.

Brown said appeals of Forest Service environmental studies are quite common.

"Although we have a lot of agreement on our actions, in this case we have groups on both sides that are unhappy," she said.



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